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Amber House v. Brovitz Group

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 11, 2018

Amber House, Plaintiff,
Brovitz Group, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment (Docs. 45, 53), which are fully briefed.[1] For the following reasons, Plaintiff Amber House's motion is denied, and Defendants Defendant Desert Massage Companies, Inc. (“DMC”) and The Brovitz Group's (“Brovitz”) motion is granted.


         DMC operates 13 Massage Envy Spa Clinics across Arizona, including a clinic in Ahwatukee. Brovitz is a shareholder of DMC. House, a black woman, was employed at DMC's Ahwatukee Massage Envy Clinic (“Clinic”) as an esthetician.

         On September 6, 2016, House raised concerns with Sasha Alba, the Clinic's General Manager, about Cynthia Larson, another Clinic employee. Specifically, House alleged that Larson, in an effort to sabotage House, engaged in inappropriate gossip and spread unfounded and slanderous accusations. House's concerns, which were memorialized in an email she sent to Alba, did not include allegations that Larson's behavior was motivated by racial animus.

         On September 9, 2016, Alba organized a meeting between Larson and House. Also present at the meeting was Ashley Mosono, Director of Operations and Alba's direct supervisor. During this group meeting House did not raise concerns about racial discrimination or the existence of racial animus in the workplace.

         On October 19, 2016, House emailed Alba with concerns over her work schedule. According to House, after the September 9 meeting her regular customers were being diverted to other Clinic estheticians and her Saturday shifts were reduced. House also questioned whether these changes were retaliation for her September 6 email. Alba responded, assuring House that these incidents were unrelated to the September 6 complaint, clarifying that her reduction in Saturday shifts was a mistake that would be promptly remedied, and requesting further information concerning diverted clients in order for Alba to properly investigate the matter. Despite Alba's assurances to the contrary, House sent a second email to Alba on October 19, in which she stated that she suspected both incidents were “racially motivated, ” but that she did not “know for a fact.”

         On October 25, 2016, Alba met with House and Shawn Adams, a human resources staff member. During the meeting Houses stated that she did not think Alba was retaliating against her. Nor did House identify any DMC employee she believed was retaliating against her.

         Several months later, on April 6, 2017, House submitted an EEOC intake questionnaire, alleging claims against Brovitz. House then filed an EEOC charge for discrimination against the company, alleging racial discrimination and retaliation. On May 11, 2017, House filed suit in this matter.

         On August 19, 2017, House allegedly injured her hand using a steamer while performing a facial at work. House reported her injury to the Lead Sales Associate, but returned to work and did not seek any medical treatment for her alleged injury.

         On August 20, 2017, Monica McNatt, Assistant General Manager of the Clinic, moved House's handbag in order to access employee mailboxes. According to McNatt, later that day House informed her that she had a loaded gun in her purse and that McNatt should be careful moving her stuff. McNatt reported this conversation to Alba.

         On August 23, 2017, Alba discussed McNatt's report with House. House denied saying that she had a gun in her purse, but admitted that she sometimes carries a gun in her purse, she has a concealed carry license, and she intended to start bringing a gun to work. House also alleged that other employees were bringing concealed weapons to work, but refused to divulge the identity of such employees. Alba instructed House that DMC prohibits firearms on Clinic premises, and notified her that bringing a firearm to work would be cause for termination.

         Upon learning that other Clinic employees were allegedly bringing concealed weapons to work, Alba and Tiffany Harris, DMC's Chief Operating Officer, initiated an investigation and interviewed all Clinic employees. On August 26, 2017, as part of the investigation, Alba and Harris interviewed House. According to Alba, House changed her story during the interview, denying that she even owned a gun. On August 29, 2017, DMC terminated House, citing safety concerns, House's inconsistent statements regarding the August 23 incident, and her refusal to aid in the investigation by identifying other employees bringing concealed weapons to work.

         On September 25, 2017, House filed her amended complaint, alleging that Defendants: (i) violated of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against her on account of race; (ii) violated Title VII by retaliating against her for engaging in protected activity; (iii) violated 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by engaging in racial discrimination in enforcing her employment contract; (iv) violated the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (“FPA”) by paying House less than co-workers of a different race; (v) violated the American's with ...

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